The rise of multiple, cross-silo virtual teams
How many teams are you part of at work? Professionals are now members of four different teams on average, according to our benchmarking survey of over 4,000 employees in Europe, US, Asia and the Middle East. Four teams with say 3-5 key goals each means 12-20 key initiatives to juggle and try to stay on top of.
These multiple teams are also now more likely to be horizontal, cross-silo and virtual teams. In digitally mature companies, more than 70% of executives say their companies are organized around cross-functional teams (vs. only 28% of companies at the start of their digital journey) according to a 2017 report from MIT and Deloitte Digital.
These new trends have a serious impact on people’s sense of clarity in terms of what their key goals are, what to prioritize and how to handle the inevitable ambiguity and conflict.
The good news is that studies have shown that working on multiple teams can have many benefits, such as[i]:
- facilitating the flow of knowledge and best practices between teams
- building boundary spanning networks
- encouraging individuals and teams to seek out more efficient work practices
- improving workers’ performance
But only up to a point. Studies have found that the increase in productivity plateaus and then turns negative as the number of team memberships’ increases and the clarity issues above kick in. As well as increased ambiguity, over-cooperation is likely to become a problem.
There doesn’t seem to be any universal magic number of teams to be part of – the performance peak depends on factors such as the organizational incentive systems, geographic dispersion of the various teams, individual time related preferences and existing networks of relationships. The variety as well as number of teams can also have an impact – with a large variety increasing learning (again up to a point), but decreasing productivity.
What is clear is that unless we’re careful, psychologists warn us that being a part of a number of teams “imposes competing demands on members’ attention and commitment, which can lead to information overload, distress, and less than optimal performance at the individual, team, and organizational levels[ii].”
To mitigate this, it is imperative that we take ownership of our roles and goals within each team. If we are on multiple teams, we are the only ones who have the full perspective of everything we have going on. Therefore, it’s up to us to clarify what our priorities should be, to highlight to others if certain goals from different teams clash and to be comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.
Once the jurisdiction of senior managers and above, this means that managing multiple stakeholders is now a lot more common further down the organization. But are we giving people the skills they need to perform this complex task?
Check out an interactive graphic of our learning paths and training module contents – including multiple team management.
[i] van de Brake, H. J., Walter, F., Rink, F., Essens, P., & van der Vegt, G. (2016) Multiple Team Membership and Individual Performance in Knowledge-Intensive Work. Academy of Management Proceedings, 1, p. 10488.
[ii] Maynard, M. T., Mathieu, J. E., Rapp, T. L., & Gilson, L. L. (2012) Something(s) old and something(s) new: Modeling drivers of global virtual team effectiveness. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33: 342-365.
Educate yourself further with a few more or our online insights:
25 years of experience learning with a range of world class clients
We work with a wide range of clients from global multinationals to recent start-ups. Our audiences span all levels, from CEOs to operational teams around the world. Our tools and programs have been developed for diverse and demanding audiences.
Tailored training or off the shelf modules for your people development needs
We are deep content experts in remote & virtual teams, matrix management and agile & digital leadership. We are highly flexible in how we deliver our content and ideas. We can tailor content closely to your specific needs or deliver off the shelf bite sized modules based on our existing IP and 25 years of training experience.
For more about how we deliver our keynotes, workshops, live web seminars and online learning.